Bird has a job.

I’ve been struggling all day with how I am going to break this story down and give it to you in short form. This weekend I went to the Bronx for my first official research trip. *trumpet blast*

It was a trip full of deep emotions and strong words. Words like;

Villain. Deliverance. Refract.

Other phrases followed me in the door as I arrived home. Like the scarves you tie to luggage to help you identify your belongings in a crowded baggage claim, they wafted off of handles and out of pockets.

The Land of Make Believe. Parallel lines.

Let’s begin this story with a new platitude that I feel very strongly could become the next big thing.

Nothing bad ever happens over a slice of pizza.

pizza

Like all other platitudes and positive affirmations, there’s exceptions to this rule but dang, don’t you agree that this should be a universal truth. If bad stuff happens, it should never happen over pizza.

Good friends make excellent mirrors. Jena & Me.
Good friends make excellent mirrors.

Over a slice of pizza, my friend Jena told me that she was shooting a wedding in New York and asked me if I’d like to come along. I said I’d check my calendar and see if I could swing it.

“I have to do some research there anyway.”

It took a few weeks of moving things around on the calendar but in the end, it worked out. I didn’t tell anyone I was going. If you know me, you know that there’s not often a thought that passes between my ears that I don’t blurt out.

I was nervous.

Technically, this was the first trip I had accidentally planned for the specific purpose of researching my father’s life. At the time, it seemed like a convenient, economical way to begin the process. Plus, I’d have the support of my friend to help me through any of the rougher spots.

Every idea seems like a good one at the time. (It was a good idea but we’re not at that part of the story today.)

After 15 hours of traveling, Jena and I approached the city in our rental car. She squealed, “Yaaay, we’re almost there.”

I sheepishly squealed back. Or maybe I said,“Baa…”

Nope. It was definitely a squeal.

Suddenly a tsunami sized wave of self-doubt came crashing into me. Hard. I felt a shortness of breath as I looked at the city stretching out around us for miles of darkness marked by sparkling lights. I was suddenly confronted with a very harsh and unrelenting interrogator.

Who do you think you are? You think you can just come into this city and ask questions? Who do you think you are that you deserve answers at all?

The voice in my head kept berating me and I slowly leaned over, put my head between my knees and started to do some deep breathing. I steadied myself and eventually, the voice quieted down a bit. At least it quieted to a volume that allowed me to hear my own thoughts.

The days that followed found me challenged. I asked questions that resulted in 3 different reactions.

  1. Here is your answer.
  2. You don’t want to know.
  3. I don’t remember.

And maybe there was one more.

4. You’ll never understand.

For the answers, I was grateful. For the rest, I was insistent. I tried to balance being respectful of a place in time many didn’t want to revisit and honoring my own right to know about my father.

In front of my Great-Aunt Catherine's apartment.
In front of my Great-Aunt Catherine’s apartment.

It felt like balancing on a tight rope at times. The tension in my own spirit was difficult to carry and the self-doubt kept revisiting me every time an answer was hard to extract. Always reminding me that I would never find the answers I was looking for. Always cajoling me to move on and let it go.

I cannot.

I was not my father’s only victim. I have known that for a while but I was not aware of the full story. I was able to hear more than I ever heard before. I was able to look into eyes, hold hands and drink in the energy in the room.

As a side note, that story only came to be known through my willingness to share my story. From that, there was a seeking of deliverance and healing.

Dear Self-doubt, Suck it.

I learned that they called my dad by the nickname, ‘Country.’ He came to the city by way of Anderson, North Carolina. He was a big, strong, country boy that people feared and loved. I saw the hospital where he was born. I met friends who knew him as a teenager. When I asked one friend about his gang life, he told me that my father was a villain but he loved him very much.

It lead us to have a conversation about how we all have a dark side. It made me think of all of the people in my life that I had loved regardless of serious character flaws. It made me wonder how his friends would feel if they knew what he did to me.

I didn’t tell them. I’m not sure why.

I think we all tend to think of good and evil as parallel lines. We think of them as living in a 3 dimensional space and never intersecting. But they do. They are as intertwined and inseparable as bones and flesh.

I am tired today. I’ve spent much of the weekend trying to do the opposite of what I want to do: shut down.

I’ve cooked healthy foods for myself. I’ve allowed myself to get completely sucked into mundane tasks. I’ve listened wholeheartedly to my children. I’ve been to yoga and gone on walks. I’ve returned to my blessed present.

I even watched a few movies and was hit by this phrase from Cold Mountain.

Bird has a job. Shit has a job. Seed has a job.

As I stood outside of the housing projects my father lived in, I listened to others talk about their experiences living there. I remembered how much my father wanted the lives of my brother and I to be better. He never wanted us to return to the place where he lived as a villain.

11147903_10203134145953987_9193105674401880192_o
Aunt Deborah & Me

He wanted us to live in a home where the Cosby’s were our role models. He wanted us to live in a community where drugs wouldn’t be involved in our daily interactions. He wanted us to speak properly and stand up straight. He wanted us to be educated and took us to museums we passed on road trips.

He gave us a good life amidst the evil he was doing in secret.

Shit had a job. 

On Sunday afternoon, I practiced yoga in the back of the class with 3 young survivors of sexual trauma and their parents and guardians. On their way out the door, I gave them new art sets and neon sparklers. I chose not to write them a note inside it. I left the pages blank in honor of their ability to tell their story in the way that they want to.

Like me.

Seed has a job.

After my travels were over, I said goodbye to my friends and sat on my couch. Other than to meet my basic needs, I didn’t get up again until that yoga class forced me up and out the door. I sat shell shocked watching episodes of Parenthood.

If you’ve ever seen that show, you probably already know that as far as a tool to wrench choked back tears from your body, that show is the top of the line. On a normal day, I cry at the end of every episode.

Seriously. The show has some tear inducing magic spell attached to it.

There’s always a sort of hangover effect that comes with doing this research. It’s like my heart gets locked up, my tears are frozen to the inside of my eyelids and I can feel my body twisting into the knots sailors must’ve used to keep their sails tied down in the worst of storms.

I have learned through this process that it’s my job to unlock, defrost and untie. It’s my job to unbind myself from any negative energy, any scary remnants of the past and any emotions waiting to be released in a safe space.

I sat on my couch and I waited to cry. It took an episode or two but sure enough, Max got into that really great school and I cried. Once the dam was broken, I jumped into the waters that rushed through. I was gone. Crying my eyes out and it felt good.

Bird has a job.11268367_1040474219326260_1577484150989361945_n

Sincerely,

signature1

 

 

 

Dear love, favor me.

Good afternoon Ms. Torok,

I don’t always have success when searching our archives, but was able to locate your father’s obituary. It published Oct. 18, 1988 and I have attached a screen shot of the page. I hope this helps.

My father’s funeral was on a Wednesday afternoon. I didn’t know that. This is not exactly headline news but I enjoy the details. Our family greeted visitors between the hours of 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. After nap time but before dinner. I wonder if that was a consideration.

 

He was addressed as Sgt. and I was called Tashmica. That seems formal for a time when everyone called me ‘Tasha’. A little girl nickname for a little girl.
 
There’s more. Names I recognize and a few that I don’t. The name of the jump school where he died. The information about military services performed and by whom.

 
Every sentence, a snapshot of our lives at the time.
 
I didn’t think I would be able to get this information. I don’t know if you guys know this but, it is now the year 2015. Why in the world do they even keep this stuff?
 
Answer: People like me.
 
People who make the phone calls to ask the questions that may lead people to laugh at your foolishness. Turns out, no one laughed. Not the obituary staffer and not the funeral home representative.
 
They went to work. They did some research and now I have more answers that inspire even more questions. As a matter of fact, I have strong indications that a gentlemen may be searching a secondary location’s files to help me answer questions I never mentioned to him.
 
Curiosity. Gratitude. Progress.
 
Although I am a little disappointed that I won’t live up to the romantic image of visiting some library basement and sifting through microfiche to find clues about who my father was.
 

Oct. 18, 1988 pg 2 clip

 
I am processing the information. I’m thinking about the leaves in October and the dirt road that led us from my grandmother’s house to the funeral home. I’m hearing the gun salute that shook my mother into tears and the flag folded in her lap. I am also wondering how many other clues will be so easily uncovered.
 
“Love, like Fortune, favours the bold.”
E.A. Bucchianeri, Brushstrokes of a Gadfly
 
Dear love, favor me.
 

 

 PS – New mantra: Your addiction of choice is boldness.

 

How I Met My Mother: Notes on Family Interviews

Have you met your mother?

What about your grandmother?

Have you ever asked about who they were before they became your family?

I hadn’t. Not really.

Considering our family history, opening doors behind me never seemed like a wise or safe plan of action.

Until I got this idea in my head about writing a book about the sexual abuse I survived as a child, I assumed that my mother was simply the woman who smelled like coffee and perfume when I fell asleep on her lap in church.

Her definition was (and I imagine still is) wrapped up in my own self-centeredness. She is the one who spent too much money during a hard time so that I could be the belle of the ball at a high school dance. She is the woman who slept with one eye opened and the blue screen of the TV flickering on until I popped my head into her room to say I was home safe. She grew green beans when we were little but for the life of her couldn’t get a tomato to grow in Texas.

She is my mother. I know her well.

My grandmother, my biological father’s mother, I did not know quite that well.

I remember giving her roses at my father’s funeral. She brought me the soft, slow southern drawl of my family’s roots in South Carolina over the phone but I have rarely been in the same room with her. I only had stories. Vague shadows of tales my father told my mother before he died. The death of a family member is often like pruning limbs off of a tree. Sometimes, unintentionally, you lose a few of the smaller branches and offshoots.

When my research began, I had questions. Now those questions are reproducing like a Mogwai eating fried chicken after midnight.

Yes. I googled this to ensure accuracy.

Correction. Based on this chart of the Mogwai/Gremlin lifecycle, my questions are budding like a Mogwai caught in a rainstorm without an umbrella.

This phenomenon has begun because I knew less than I thought. I knew nothing.

I didn’t know how my parents met or how they fell in love. I didn’t know how my grandmother grew up or what her parents were like. I didn’t know what my father’s childhood was like or who his friends were.

I still know very little.

I feel like I need a crime solving board in my attic to help me keep my own story straight.

mason-board

 

My story is intricate, complex and fascinating because it is not mine alone.

It is my father’s, my mother’s, my grandmother’s, my brother’s, my husband’s and my children’s story too.

We are all standing in a piece of the story. Our points of view are different but we are all here tied together.

It’s complicated.

You are probably wondering what I hope to achieve with all of these inquiries into my father’s past.

Well, so am I.

I am starting to be okay with knowing nothing.

At the end of this pile of questions, there will be no definitive answer to the question, “Why me?”

If that question had an answer, I think all of the unjustly injured people of the world would collectively sigh in relief so loudly, it would shift the planet.

The answer to “Why me?” is nearly as annoying as the redundancy of the question.

15% of sexual assault and rape victims are under age 12.

“Why not me?”

After googling this statistic – Don’t hate. Numbers don’t stick with me. – I was kind of sadly excited to be nearly aged out of the high risk ages of 16-34.

*Phew*

Can’t wait to be statistically unlikely to be raped.

And I thought most of my milestone birthdays were gone.

Amiright?

Anyway, with those devastating odds, childhood is still something many people are just blessed to survive.

I am not looking for the final answer to the question, “Why?”

I am looking to start a conversation.

Unfortunately, I am so not alone.

Age of sexual abuse survivors

 

1 out of every 6 American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime (14.8% completed rape; 2.8% attempted rape).

I am so sadly not even special.

About 3% of American men — or 1 in 33 — have experienced an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime.

The final answer is not a simple fill in the blank response.

The answer is understanding, empathy and change.

If I can show you how ruinous the experience of sexual assault and rape is by telling you my story, then perhaps you will have more compassion for those that are trying to heal around you. You might even become an advocate. You may, if we are all lucky, help me recreate what childhood means in our lifetime.

_JRM2370Ah-ha!

There’s an answer.

Sincerely,

Tashmica